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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 May 2006, 17:38 GMT 18:38 UK
Bombings 'not fault of security'
Bombed bus in Tavistock Square
Sir Richard says the terrorist threat is 'very high'
A senior civil servant has told MPs the 7 July bomb attacks on London were not the result of security failings.

"It would be unreasonable to expect ... absolute protection against the terrorist threat we faced," Sir Richard Mottram told the MPs.

The attacks on three Tube trains and a bus by four bombers killed 52 people.

Sir Richard, the government's security and intelligence co-ordinator, also told the Commons transport committee the terror threat now was "very high".

Sir Richard was giving evidence to the Commons transport committee's inquiry entitled "Travelling without Fear".

The security services have come in for criticism since 7 July after it emerged at least one of the bombers had, at one stage, been under surveillance.

'Difficult'

But Sir Richard said it would be "unreasonable to expect that the security authorities could ever offer absolute protection from the terrorist threat we face".

The risk of a 7 July type of attack had been "assessed as a possibility" and had not come as a "bolt from the blue", he said.

Because of its nature - and despite the "significant progress" made since in improving intelligence - the authorities could not guarantee it would not happen again or that the terrorist threat could ever be "eliminated".

"The nature of this problem makes it a very difficult one for the government to deal with," Sir Richard told the committee.

He stressed the importance of intelligence, arguing it was impossible to combat the terror threat by tightened security alone.

'Frightened'

Introducing airport-style security at railway and tube stations and bus stops was not practical or cost-effective in an "open" transport system, he told the committee.

There also needed to be "a process in our communities that ensured that people were not radicalised to the point of committing terrorist acts," he said.

And the government needed to be more open with the public about the nature of the threat it faced.

"We need to be more open with people, more willing to take them into our confidence," said Sir Richard, but added people should not be "frightened" into not using public transport.

Ian Carter, the Metropolitan Police's commander of special operations, told the committee the threat of a terrorist attack in the UK was likely to remain for the foreseeable future and the transport system was "always going to be at risk".

"There will always be an ongoing threat", he said, which would simply vary depending on the international situation.

Airports row

At the moment, the threat was the same as it had been last July, said Commander Carter.

Since then he added, three separate "attempts at terrorist activity" had been thwarted through intelligence and "police intervention".

Jerry Savill, chief superintendent at Heathrow and City Airports, said airport security needed to be improved across the country, particularly around perimeter fences and CCTV systems.

There also needed to be more stringent security checks on staff, particularly in cargo handling areas.

But there was a row going on between the Metropolitan Police and BAA over who should pay for such improvements, he told the committee.

The row had blown up since airports were privatized in the 1980s, he said, when security became an "investment decision".

He called for statutory regulation of airport security and independent inspectors to ensure potential loopholes were closed.


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